Jack Harrison, Jesse Marsch putting aside NY rivalry at Leeds

Shortly after taking the reins as the Leeds United manager, Jesse Marsch publicly challenged Jack Harrison to be a “son of a b—h” on the field. It wasn’t that long ago that such a temperament would’ve made Marsch’s job harder.

Once on opposite sides of New York’s MLS rivalry, Marsch and Harrison have converged at Leeds after the former Red Bulls coach was hired last month. While Marsch inherited a relegation-threatened side, his reunion with Harrison, at a Premier League club nonetheless, shows the meteoric rise the two have made from MLS ranks.

“I think it speaks to the respect and the growth of MLS over a long period of time,” NYCFC sporting director David Lee told The Post.

“I think the league has gotten better year after year, and it’s unquestionable now the level of players that are playing in MLS have proven they can go to Europe and have success. Coaches – Jesse being a major part of this – are proving they can go and have success in Europe as well. So I think the league is growing, and I think teams and people in Europe are looking much more closely at the league now for talent, be it on the pitch or off the pitch.”

Jack Harrison
Jack Harrison has been reunited with his former crosstown rival Jesse Marsch with Leeds.
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Neither Marsch nor Harrison have worked in New York since 2018 (Marsch was also at RB Leipzig, and Harrison had a stint at Middlesbrough), but their MLS experiences unquestionably shaped their current trajectories.

The fiery Marsch won two Supporters’ Shields (most regular season points) and perfected his hyper-aggressive pressing style, while across the Hudson River, Harrison quickly blossomed from a promising rookie to a linchpin of the team. Back in 2016, the two faced off for the first time, setting their parallel paths in motion.

As Marsch’s Red Bulls led NYCFC 5-0 in a match now infamously known as the “Red Wedding,” Harrison was thrown on for the last 34 minutes of the game. Roughly six years later, the same tactics that overwhelmed NYCFC en route to an eventual 7-0 scoreline are on Harrison’s side as Marsch tries to keep Leeds afloat in the Premier League.

“As a first professional debut, I wasn’t very happy about a 7-0 defeat,” Harrison recalled recently to BBC Sport West Yorkshire.

That blowout wasn’t the last Marsch would see of his future player. The two would face off an additional five times (not including a U.S. Open Cup match Marsch was suspended for), with Harrison notching two goals and generally making a good impression on the Wisconsin native.

“I knew who he was, and we would’ve really like to had him at the New York Red Bulls, but unfortunately the enemy had taken him,” he told the English media earlier this month.

In fact, Marsch not only knew of Harrison but actively game-planned against him.

Current Red Bulls captain Aaron Long, who primarily plays at center back, told The Post that he was used at left back for one home match specifically to quell Harrison. Based on Long’s description of events, this was likely in the 1-0 U.S. Cup win on June 14, 2017.

“Listen, David Villa’s gonna do what he does,” Long remembers Marsch telling him before the game. “But I think they’re at their best when Jack Harrison is creating on the wing.”

Jack Harrison Aaron Long
Jack Harrison and Aaron Long face off in 2017 during a US Open Cup match.
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If Long’s experience with Marsch is any indication, Harrison should love working with the 48-year-old. Marsch was blunt, yet complimentary when first meeting Long as a trialist: he touted his high potential, but wanted Long to switch from midfield to defense and spend a bit of time with the second team doing so.

Despite a first-team offer from Minnesota United, Long decided to sign with Red Bulls II, banking on the “workaholic” coach whose sterling reputation he had heard so much about. Marsch held up his end of the bargain, watching every second team game and doing personal video sessions with Long after every match.

“He was so up front, so honest, so open that I knew he wasn’t playing games anymore,” Long said of his early impressions of Marsch. “He really cared about my career, he cared about me as a person.”

The following year, Long became a starter for the first team, and made his national team debut in 2018. He’s with the U.S. this week for their pivotal slate of World Cup qualifiers, already making a sub appearance in Thursday’s 0-0 draw vs. Mexico.

Jack Harrison
Harrison has five league goals this season for Leeds.
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Harrison has already seen firsthand what Marsch can do. Since being appointed on Feb. 28, Marsch has won two of four games, and Leeds have outscored opponents on expected goals in all but one contest. Harrison has started three of those contests, including a goal last week in the team’s thrilling 3-2 comeback win vs. Wolves.

“It’s just been incredible to have him in… He’s had a really positive impact and made a really, really good first impression since he’s arrived,” Harrison told BBC Sport West Yorkshire. “I think he’s gotten everybody excited again and motivating everybody in the right direction.”

Leeds still has work to do to secure survival, and tough games against Arsenal, Chelsea and Man City remain. For now, they’re seven points clear of the drop zone, and Marsch’s trademark fist pumps have made their way from Jersey to Yorkshire.

“If 11 guys buy in to his system and the way he wants to play,” Long said, “I think the sky’s the limit.”